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Thinking With the Church


by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson

Like St. Ignatius of Loyola, Father McGivney and the Knights of Columbus reflect a faithfulness that is essential to the Church’s renewal

Carl A. Anderson

The election of Pope Francis — the first Jesuit pope in history — provides a good opportunity to reflect briefly on how St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, understood the papacy.

During the early days of his ministry in the 16th century, when St. Ignatius and his followers were known simply as “reformed priests,” they were the victims of many false rumors and gossip. This led to trouble with both the Paris Inquisition and the Vatican. Finally, Ignatius appealed to Pope Paul III, who agreed to review the matter and ultimately gave Ignatius the vindication he sought. The pope later approved the new Society of Jesus.

At a time when Renaissance popes had, to say the least, failed to exemplify Christian virtue, Ignatius placed his new religious order in faithful service to the successors of St. Peter. Both Ignatius and Paul III had experienced “conversions,” and Ignatius realized that the popes retained the grace of their teaching office, regardless of their personal shortcomings.

For St. Ignatius, the principle of sentire cum ecclesia — to think with the mind of the Church — was essential to the work of the Jesuits. His “Rules” for thinking with the Church conclude his Spiritual Exercises.

Because of this faithfulness, the Jesuits were central to the renewal of the Catholic Church, its re-establishment throughout much of Europe, the evangelization of the Western Hemisphere, and the introduction of Christianity to India, China and Japan.

Today, our own situation seems to be a mirror image of St. Ignatius’ time. We have been graced by popes of heroic virtue, whose saintly lives are beyond question. These popes have been criticized not for failing to live up to Church teaching, but for upholding it — especially in regard to the sanctity of human life and the sacraments of matrimony and holy orders.

Our Church now faces a challenge as profound as the problems of the 16th century. This time, however, it is not a question of which Christian community most faithfully reflects Christ’s plan for his Church. Instead, the challenge is by secularists who say there should be no Christian faith at all. For them, Frederich Nietzsche’s claim that “God is dead” is a turning point in history. They say Christian faith is irrational and should have no influence in society. This new secularism is widespread in Europe and is gaining ground in the Western Hemisphere.

Perhaps it is a sign of divine providence that Father Michael J. McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus the very year that Nietzsche wrote those words about the demise of God.

Today the Church asks of believers nothing more, and nothing less, than it has throughout her history: Profess what you believe and live what you profess. Such personal witness is the only way we can make an adequate response to the claims of today’s militant atheists.

Here, too, we see the spiritual genius of Venerable Michael McGivney. In founding the Knights of Columbus, Father McGivney established a way in which Catholic men could confidently profess their faith by living lives of charity, unity and fraternity in their parishes and local communities.

This witness through service is at the foundation of our founder’s vision for the Order. Blessed John Paul II spoke of a “charity that evangelizes,” and this must become an ever more present reality in our own lives and the lives of our families.

Since the Second Vatican Council, the Knights of Columbus has sought new opportunities to profess what we believe as Catholics. We have made a determined effort “to think with the mind of the Church” as our popes have worked to implement the council’s vision, and we will continue to do so as Pope Francis begins to write a new chapter in this history.

St. Ignatius knew that a society of strong and determined Catholic men could accomplish great things. Nearly five centuries later, the Knights of Columbus would agree.

Vivat Jesus!